These days I have been filled with an undercurrent of angst. I noticed it when I am watching a movie or just waiting for something to happen – I would fidget, this is not normal for me. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot of energy and usually have a couple of different projects in the air. However, this is not that kind of energy.
My abnormal angst got reaffirmed today when Clint commented that I couldn’t keep my hands still. So I started reflecting on why this was. It was like I had all this energy with no where to go and a desire to get somewhere without knowing where. A desperate panic like somehow life was passing before me and I had not accomplished enough. It then occured to me that this feeling was not so unfamiliar, just that it has been a while since it had surfaced with such intensity.
For better or worse, nature or nurture – I think we all are a victim of our own personalities and desires. Unfortunately, for me this meant trying to feed my hunger for achievement – to make things happen. When I was younger, I would envy those around me who could be happy working at the corner Starbucks serving coffee. My personality would not let this happen. For the past 5 years, besides my career, I could point to the masters degree at Stanford I was working on as my life work in progress. Now Stanford is done – accomplished. What’s next?
Now, I don’t want this entry to simply be an episode in Loni’s twilight zone so I do want to share some of my findings around goal setting and the types of goals. This is exactly what I proceeded to do today – set my goals for the next decade of my life as I had done for the past decade. And yes, it has calmed me down a bit. I can’t share them because unfortunately some of them are too personal and others are downright embarrassing. But rest assured, the advice I am dishing out here, I actually do use.
1. The experts are right, it does make a difference if you write down your goals. A decade ago, I wrote down 5 goals I was to achieve by this year. I have achieved 4 out of the 5 goals so far, I have until November of this year to nail my last one. Writing down your goals helps to clarify what the goals actually are and help you to focus on a key number of them. Also, over the decade, you can refer back to them and keep yourself focused or assess different decisions to see if they align with your overall strategy. This latter piece is key because the goals should be big, but like all big events, it takes a lot of small building blocks to result in a big result. Assessing smaller actions against the bigger picture makes sure that your actions are consistent with longer term goals. I do break down my 10 year goals into yearly goals.
2. It is ok if you don’t achieve all your goals. If all the goals you set are easily achievable then what fun is that? For those sports lovers out there, would you watch a game where there is a clear winner at the onset of the game? Would it be exciting? Probably not. Same with life, set your sights high. Now you do need to be careful about this advice, you must accept the pitfall as well. I have come to terms that I rather shoot for high goals in life and bear the despair of disappointment and defeat then to never have the opportunity to dream big. Now if you are despair and disappointment adverse, perhaps you may want to temper this advice.
3. The results of goals fall into two key categories: Stateless and “Stateful” (word I made up). It is good to recognize the two when you prioritize your goals. Stateless results are ones where achieving them does not depend on the state you were in the day prior. For example, the goal of having pretty clothes is stateless. I could have a potato sack as my only wardrobe item one day, step into Nordstrom’s with a personal shopper the next and come out looking like the girl in “The Devil Wears Prada”. I have to say, that movie inspired me to get a pair of tall black boots. Stateful goals are ones where who you are today does matter in how well you can achieve your stateful goals tomorrow. For example, if you want to become a brilliant scientist by tomorrow but never took time to develop skills of critical thought and scientific method, your chances of succeeding would be the same as me winning the lottery. Now why, you ask, is this important to prioritizing your goals. Well, because everyone has a limited amount of time in a day and you must make choices – opportunity cost as they say in economics. When push comes to shove, cross out the stateless goals and go for the stateful. It gives you the most flexibility. You can become a brilliant scientist and then get invited to a really swank benefit. With a quick shopping day ala “Pretty Women” san Richard Gere’s credit card, you too can have a wonderful wardrobe. Another example is Cinderella, you see, there are some lessons to be learned by fairytales. Just plug your ears at the part where the prince dashes you off and all your goals are fulfilled. Doesn’t happen in real life like that.
4. Make sure you have a good mix of “productive goals”, “character goals” and “fun goals”. When you talk to people, often times people associate goals with serious things such as financial goals or health goals. Make sure you have a couple of fun goals in there as well such as going sky diving, buy a place in mexico or go to a strip club.
5. Reward yourself, but not too often. When you achieve your goals, celebrate them with your loved ones and friends. However, don’t reward yourself too quickly as then the rewards lose meaning.
6. Make sure the goals are measurable. How will you know you arrived otherwise? If they are qualitative type goals, make your spouse or a close friend or other appropriate person be the judge. For example, to see if I had achieved the level of stage presence I wanted, I entered into a beauty pageant. In this case, I was not using it as a measurement of my intelligence or character, just whether I had a stage-worthy demeanor.
Happy goal setting.
P.S. To all those Canadians out there, “Happy Belated Canada Day!”